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LCS Alternative Weekly

April 28, 2010

USN file photo of the Dutch navy amphibious ship HNLMS Johan De Witt. The vessel has been performing new and successful mothership tactics in concert with her landing craft off pirate-infested Somalia.

Dutch Plant the Seed of Victory

Evidence that large motherships or frigates need support from small craft in the littorals (which obviously is not the natural habitat of Blue Water warships), the Dutch are using small landing craft from the amphibious warship Johan De Witt to patrol and “smother” pirate activities in its area of influence. Thanks to Eagle1 and the ever vigilant Lee Wahler for pointing this story out to us. The following is my own summary from a translated Dutch Navy report:

The Johan De Witt uses its small landing craft as patrol vessels to take the war to the pirates safe haven (something yours truly and others have proposed), instead of waiting for them out on the open ocean. The Dutch captain has replaced his comfortable quarters on the giant floating fortress for a forward command “a field bed on the deck of a landing vessel” to get close into the action. In so doing the sailors have been successful in capturing numerous pirates vessels, including a mothership or converted freighter by surprise.

This entirely new style tactic allows the De Witt to cover a considerable amount of the coast with its 6 landing craft (something you can’t do with a few large Blue Water types alone). The small craft, though much less capable, helps extend the bigger ship’s already amazing capabilities. It is an entirely new idea that navies must get used to if they are to succeed against a numerous and elusive foe.

I am getting a picture here of an amazing new strategy being born off the Somali coast, that might prove the answer to this insurgency style warfare at sea. If you will, you might liken it to the navies’ Battle of Tal Afar in Iraq, which is often credited with helping to germinate the idea of the Surge, as the best solution to fight insurgents on land. The New Buccaneers, using similar tactics on the sea, of dispersal, propaganda, hostage taking, plus the use of light forces against much bigger and seemingly invincible prey has proven very successful, but they may now have met their match. At the very least, it is a start. Note this day.

Concerning the idea of motherships, the other day I posted the following, on the dire need for small craft to work in conjunction with bigger motherships, of the LCS size and above:

These are the charges, or worker drones, or fighters. They may be more important, or as equally important as high-end battleships. Each has a specific function, and the small warship can cruise in and out of the littorals, the Green and Brown water environment, far safer than giant warships which are at risk from mines, submarines, suicide boats, or even shoals, rocks, and sandbars etc. Of course, all warships are at risk in such waters, but the larger ones especially so, and neither are they so easy to replace with all their capabilities. Not since the First World War have large warships dare venture into coastal waters teaming with many and varied threats, except proceeded by small warships.

The small warships (in this case the De Witt’s landing craft) becomes an integral part of the navy. They are the arms or even fingers of the whole body and not the brain itself, extending the reach of the latter. They are not less capable, but helping to disperse the already considerable capability of Blue Water warships, which can’t tread in the new environment. When the Captain left his ship to operate with the landing craft, here was the brain getting at the center of action! This is something he could not have done with a solitary 17,000 ton amphibious warship, however well-equipped.


What Were They Thinking?

Often when a major weapons programs suffers cost overruns, endures successive technical failures, and suffers through delays in entering service if it ever makes it at all, we typically use well tried excuses to explain the problem. Blame almost immediately falls on the manufacturer, the defense contractor or builder who it is said didn’t deliver the goods as promised. Management failure or poor oversite from the particular military service is often pointed to as the culprit as well. The thought process behind the project itself is rarely questioned.

What few ever bother to consider when a program fails, perhaps it was just a bad idea to begin with. Naturally I could point to the entire LCS program as a whole, expecting a ship with the speed of a patrol boat but the size of a frigate to act like a patrol boat is a tall order. Specifically, the idea that the few $700 million LCS you can afford may have to face off against scores of missile armed attack boats in shallow waters, and expect to be victorious stretches the bounds of reason.

So we see with the NLOS-LS, the guided missile in a box, designed for the Army to use against tanks, as sort of a super-artillery, also meant for the littoral combat ship to help fend off small-boat swarms, the kind the Iranians are building with glee in the Persian Gulf. NLOS has been rejected by the Army for cost-overruns, and now the Navy is forced to make do with a ship that is truly armed like a patrol boat, but cost near to a frigate, that will ensure it can never deploy in numbers required for world-wide deployment. Presuming that “capability” would make up for its few numbers, likely only about 15 to deploy in the next 10 years, now it can’t even boast a miracle anti-swarming defense.

The Pentagon seems to be the most spiritual place in the country these days, in that they still believe in miracles. Supposedly, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would supply the needs of all the services, and our allies too. Yet we are surprised this “do it all nothing well” airplane, meant to be a low cost alternative to the F-22 Raptor, is approaching that amazingly superior jet in cost. Plus we have the mercifully canceled Army FCS, supposed to have the firepower and armor of a tank, but light enough to fit on a C-130 transport plane, another miracle that failed to perform. The Navy also builds amphibious ships that are supposed to do the work of numerous previous vessels, but amazingly they too are riddled with faults, cost overruns, and numerous delays.

Perhaps its now we stop looking at the defense industry, and claiming that the military’s plans were poorly executed by the civilians, and start looking at the plans themselves. The ideas emanating from the Pentagon, that miracle weapons are the answer to complex problems should be taken with a grain of salt. Warfare is rarely that simple. In other words, we should question the merit of many of the weapons coming from the Pentagon, whether they have relevance in today’s warfare, or whether they make any logical sense at all.


Hi-Tech Buccaneers

Continuing with this line of thought, that the LCS was just a bad idea, here is Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club:

The LCS idea grew out of the larger need to distribute naval combat power. Some analysts felt that capability had become too concentrated in a limited number of hulls. When the scarce hull wasn’t there the capability was absent. The suggested solution was to create ‘expendable’ hulls which could distribute hitting power amid more platforms creating more “tactical stability”. Instead of having 3 dozen eggs in one basket, they would have lots more baskets among which eggs could be shared. They would resemble nothing so much as hi-tech versions of pirate ships. A mothership would be a center of a host of networked assets: helicopters, small boats, robotic underwater vehicles and UAVs. The watchword was “distributed offense, distributed defense.”
The result were the two ships of the Freedom and Independence class. They are magnificent vessels. Faster than a PT boat, able to cross oceans, radar evading and able to swap combat packages in and out. But that very fact has been criticized. By becoming a kind of naval one man band, some feared it became a jack of all trades and master of none. Some sources on the Internet have claimed that by packing so many missions into the LCS concept the Navy has set itself an impossible task. In particular it has been claimed that the ship is too fast to have much endurance and too noisy to hunt submarines. A relatively small ship able to travel at high sea states at 50 knots simply could not have a very large endurance. And why would a mother ship need to do 50 knots anyway? Wasn’t that what helicopters were for?

Preaching to the choir here folks, right? But I have grudgingly conceded in the past at least LCS is a step in the right direction, but as Richard points our further “their real value is probably as lead ships of the distributed combat power concept”. This means, the LCS concept is not the final answer, but just the beginning. As a mothership of systems, she will need escorting and here is the opportunity to build real littoral ships such as small craft, corvettes, patrol boats, FACs, the need for which is so much the greater since the bigger ship can’t defend itself properly from other small craft with the loss of its NLOS missiles.

As I pointed out the other day, we need high end ships, (and the LCS’ pricetag and touted capabilities revealed she is high end, and hardly a “Low Cost Ship”) but they should be the exception, not the rule.


Is Medium Risk Good or Bad?

Zachary M. Peterson at Inside the Navy (subscr. only) provides us details on a recent Navy study that says LCS is a “medium risk” for cost overruns:

The Littoral Combat Ship program lacks a “timely” test program plan for the mission packages slated to deploy aboard the vessels, putting the effort at a “medium” risk for cost increases as the Navy prepares to select a single design for the ship class this summer, according to a new study by the Pentagon’s acquisition directorate.
   Early deployment commitments for the first two LCS vessels, the Lockheed Martin-built Freedom (LCS-1) and the General Dynamics-Austal USA-built Independence (LCS-2), will not allow the Navy to first conduct a test and evaluation program with all the mission packages, the assessment notes. The Freedom wrapped its maiden deployment last
   week (see related story).
   The LCS is among other major programs that were highlighted in the 278-page study prepared for lawmakers by the relatively new developmental testing and system engineering offices under Defense Department acquisition czar Ashton Carter. The offices, established last year by Congress, are required to submit an annual report to lawmakers. The first such report was sent to Capitol Hill last month.

Neither high nor low, hot nor cold for cost increases. That’s lukewarm, then, meaning hard to swallow!


The Cadillac of the fleet

Thats what they call the LCS Independence these days, according to Robert Nolin of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. LCS-2 is at Fleet Week in Fort Lauderdale:

But the most notable arrival was the USS Independence, a sleek-lined behemoth bearing a boatload of firsts.
“We’re the first all-aluminum warship,” said Lt. Cmdr. Philip Garrow, who helps steer the 419-foot ship not with a traditional wheel, but with joysticks.
And the vessel has no propellers, rather four jets similar to those that power personal watercraft. “That’s pretty revolutionary,” Garrow said. “The Cadillac of the fleet is one of our jokes.”

Personally, I prefer the term “Ferrari“, but I suppose Cadillac also fits, or Tiffany, or Luxury Combat Ship, whatever. Since we are still doing analogies, the following is somewhat curious:

“We’re really like a giant outrigger canoe,” Garrow said.

I’ll leave that one to the readers in the comments! How about “Like a Canoe? Sure.”


Fractured LCS Acronyms

While we’re on the subject:

  • LCS-The Littorals Can’t be Saved
  • LCS-Likely a Complete Scam
  • LCS-Leaky, Creaky Scow
  • LCS-Leaving the Coastals Speedily
  • LCS-Lockheed’s Coastal Schooner

Thanks to D.E. Reddick and yours truly! If I left you out, please repost in the comments or our special LCS Acronym Page at top!



The Sys Admin Navy

Author, military strategist, and blogger Thomas P.M. Barnett (The Pentagon’s New Map) had some nice things to say about our good friend and mentor Cmdr. Henry J. Hendricks, whose recent Proceedings article “More Henderson, Less Bonds” is just filled with LCS Alternatives:

Mother ships, influence squadrons and a money-ball navy?
This is the article I would try to write if I were still at the Naval War College…

This is a vision of a US Navy that truly connects itself to the environment. Honestly, this is what most of us were dreaming about when we came up with “… From the Sea.”

Sys Admin Navy? I feel another post coming on! Oh, wait


The New Brown Water Navy

In the print version of Defense News, Capt. Gordon Van Hook proposes a better alternative than traditional Blue Water platforms for combating shallow water threats:

Conventional warships are challenged to provide adequate coverage to build real awareness of their environment, or to respond quickly to piracy. There are too few of them, and the area is too large, measuring over a million square miles. Within this vast area are thousands of small boats. Some of them are fishermen, some are traders, some are smugglers, and some are pirates. Many of them freely swap between these occupations on any given day.
Making sense of this myriad small-boat traffic requires forces that can get among the craft to gain awareness and begin shaping the environment. Large warships have great range and endurance, but they are less able to efficiently monitor small-boat traffic to gain awareness, interact to deter, or dissuade potential pirates.
While many warships carry their own embarked helicopters and small boats, there are too few of these assets for the size of the area that requires coverage.

Here then is the Captain’s proposal, which conjures up memories of the last time such major operations with small craft were conducted in Vietnam:

A mix of barges, converted commercial platforms, prepositioning vessels, and amphibious and auxiliary ships could form a chain of persistent sea bases, interspersed along the coast to support coastal patrol craft, smaller boats and helicopters. This chain of bases would be positioned relatively close to shore to maintain an adequate surface surveillance picture…
Helicopters would be the quick-reaction forces while the small craft would patrol among the indigenous craft, slowly building an intelligence picture of the various players on the water. Through daily interactions, coalition forces could begin to shape and influence these lawless spaces. Larger ships could patrol farther offshore where their greater endurance and sea-keeping would allow them to watch for “leakers.”

I also appreciate his idea of using helos as enablers, rather than being totally dependent to manage the small boat menace. The same might be said for ASW, since if the helo’s mothership is sunk, you essentially lose the entire capability. The best platform to destroy a small boat then becomes another small boat, or ship, etc.

Check out the following tribute to the Vietnam Era Brown Water Navy. Nothing new is being proposed here:


19 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    April 30, 2010 4:47 pm

    Jed are the Super Lynx any bigger inside. Would a Merlin work? How about the new NH90? I must presume that helo deck size and hanger space are also limiting factors?

    I still say that the USN could certainly spare a couple of Seahawks and air det to help the EU NAVFOR

  2. Jed permalink
    April 30, 2010 2:32 pm

    Leesea – the Lynx is cramped. In the 90’s after GW1 when we used to stop and inspect merchant ships, particularly tankers heading for Iraq, we (RN) would fit 6 man boarding team into the back for fast roping, with the aircrewman but no GPMG for covering fire. Back “in the day” we used to board in our standard No 8 ‘working dress’ and a pair of Hi Tech boots, and of course the gloves to grip the rope, a 9mm Sterling Sub-machine gun and that was about it ! Did all the training courses, and only did it once for real – bit different than the Dutch scenario (!), but it was fun :-)

    For normal “ops” a RN Lynx would have 4 seats in the back, transverse down the middle of the cabin – two facing each main side door. Having never flown in a SH60 or UH60 I presume they have at least a tad more room in the back !

  3. leesea permalink
    April 30, 2010 1:12 pm

    The two videos embedded on the EagleSpeak blog site are fascinating!

    First let me say congrats to the Dutch for taking positive kinetic action against pirates!

    Next I noted in the first video that the HrMS de Witt is one form of a mothership and it was launching smaller action group support ships i.e its LCUs and LCMs. This is a tactic the USN should IMMEDIATELY adopt. It should be noted that all the landing craft are covered unlike ours and also the mid-sized Dutch LCMs are far faster them the old old LCM-8 USN designs. I would also like to comment that the USN already has bought faster utility landing craft in the form of the Krivak MPF-Lighters.

    So once again the USN has most of the assets needed, and a course change from naval leadership seems to be in order?

    The second video from HrMs Tromp pointed out how small the Lynx helo cabins are. I would hope that our Seahawks are much more capable. And am anxious to see our helo gunships enter service. The video footage of Dutch Marines re-taking the MV Taipan is better than anything seen on reality TV!

  4. Marcase permalink
    April 30, 2010 2:37 am

    Mike – two (Dutch) vids, one about RNLN LPD/LCU anti-piracy ops –

    And a bit off-topic, but also a helmet video (plus Dutch commentary) of the RNLMC marines boarding the German merchant Taipan, and arrest of 10 pirates.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 29, 2010 8:17 pm

    Some thoughts from Tim Colton via Scoop Deck on the LCS fuel issue:

  6. leesea permalink
    April 29, 2010 11:49 am

    Think Defence, armor is essential. From my experience, armor needs to be a balanced installation of sufficient shield size while offering good weapons movement and taking into account boat payload. It should be noted that not all USN warboats are armored. While NECC asset have some, the NSW boats are much less so.

    Modern examples are the RM RHIBs and the USN Riverine Patrol Boats (formerly USMC SURCs) for some info goto US Safeboats linked here:

    Zodiac has developed their own version called ArmorFlate, goto here:

    BUT all armor can be defeated witness the new MRAPs and IED stories we hear all the time.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 29, 2010 9:17 am

    CBD-Thanks! Will do.

  8. CBD permalink
    April 29, 2010 8:44 am

    I found it online in an old combat fleets of the world. Send an email to the address from this post and I’ll send you a PDF of what I found. I’m sure Marcase has more, but I spent a while looking for them.

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 29, 2010 6:43 am

    Trying to find info and pics on the De Witt’s landing craft. Anyone?

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 29, 2010 6:28 am

    x wrote ” I have been taken with the idea of using LCUs for all sorts”

    Makes sense and they were widely used in Vietnam for all sorts of purposes, even as monitors. The larger LST’s became motherships for these and PBRs. As we see with the De Witt, this strategy is viable for the Green Water as well!

    Think Defence, the argument for armoring small craft in a future war at sea will mirror the same complaint in the Media about the land forces fighting in the Middle East last decade. “Why didn’t we do this sooner” and “why is it taking so long”. You heard it hear!

  11. April 29, 2010 6:10 am

    Slightly off topic, but what do you good people think about armouring of small craft against RPG’s and small arms when operating close inshore.

    Going back to Vietnam and before it is obvious that operational necessity resulted in heavily armoured designs because of RPG and small arms/support weapons fires would quickly shred a small craft no matter how quick it is. Is this a lesson we have unlearned and reverted to speed as protection?

  12. leesea permalink
    April 28, 2010 6:59 pm

    Speaking as a former Gamerwarden, I know that Capt Van Hook was referring to Green Water operations not Brown! The modified LCMs and LCVPs we used were effective gun platforms and troop transport even helo landing pads but the green water need something more encompassing as Capt Van Hook suggests.

    Marshall, Pirates are NOT merely a nusiance. They are seagoing thugs who have been allowed to expand their area of operations one-third the distance across the Indian Ocean. Other pirates are active in many choke points of the world’s ocean. By not curtailing or eliminating the pirate threat, we will let a plague continue to spread. Placing military personnel would work as a defensive measure, but not as a deterent. Small sea bases would be much more effective and support the layered approach to coastal interdiction which was Operation Market Time.

    Think Defence I proposed a dockship (Dock Expresss 10 class specifically) as a large mothership on this site over a year ago. Specialized sealift ships while not as well suited for naval operations can provide the tonnage/caapacity needed. Dockships can be used for more that ship drydockings. By floating in barges with POL, ammo, provisions and accomdations, the larger dockships enable longer endurance than either warships or naval auxiliaries.

  13. April 28, 2010 4:58 pm

    If I had been running RN board ops in Iraq I would have used LCUs instead of ship’s boats. I have been taken with the idea of using LCUs for all sorts since I read Ewen Southby-Tailyyour’s Reasons in Writing.

    The tank deck could be filled with ISO containers to provide extra accommodation, weapons stations, generators, etc. etc. Some enterprising companies are making containers that are amoured. Further they would add to the survivability of the platform by providing additional water-tight zones.

  14. April 28, 2010 4:43 pm

    I think this is a very interesting concept.

    We looked at landing craft a while ago, the UK LCU Mk10 has a range of 600nm and an endurance of a couple of weeks with a 9 man crew. The ramp can be used to lift inflatable craft out of the water. They are not particularly quick though.

    We also had a look at the concept of using smaller craft as well, the concept was a single Bay/Dutch JSS type to provide ongoing logistic support for a number of cheap vessels that served as a mothership for half a dozen CB90 or Interceptors and a helicopter. Longer range ISR would be provided by a couple of scan eagles. My thinking was to base this vessel on a cheap as chips offshore support ship, probably less than £30million each. The real utility comes from what it carries, small craft, a light helicopter and a couple of UAV’s

    I also thought the concept could be extended to include a FLO-FLO transport vessel for a dozen or so Armidale style patrol vessels.

  15. April 28, 2010 4:43 pm

    “Hell we could use UN peacekeapers if its allowable.”

    Where would these come from? The UN has enough trouble raising troops now let alone ships. And I think most here would agree that shipborne operations require above average personnel. A good chunk of UN peace keepers come from the Third World, are poorly trained and equipped, and take that much support from First World UN troops that they verge on being more of a liability than asset. I agree with the sentiment of your idea even if I doubt the practicalities.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 28, 2010 4:06 pm

    Marshall wrote “Instead of turning the world’s best navies into law enforcement maritime patrol units”

    I prefer to see this as a sea control issue, anything disturbing the flow of maritime commerce outside the bounds of the Coast Guard. The latter, though equipped well enough for this is obviously for our Coast, not the Somalis. Though your idea does have merit, I wouldn’t like to see the Navy ignore this issue and there is historical precedent that the government fleets have always saw piracy as a grave threat that should be aggressively stamped out. The Royal Navy performed this function throughout its great history as did the Roman Empire, which once sent their greatest General Pompey to destroy a particular nasty outbreak that took hostage Roman citizens, including a young Julius Caesar.

    Something which isn’t too common is for the Federal Navy to essentially tell its merchant marine “you’re on your own.”

  17. Marshall permalink
    April 28, 2010 2:46 pm

    Instead of turning the world’s best navies into law enforcement maritime patrol units to fight off a NUISCANCE, why don’t we try something else. Piracy is occuring because people feel that these ships are easy targets- and the risks are low. So why don’t we up the stakes. Instead of having an international pirate patrol why don’t we instead place a small detachment of soldiers on each ship that is traveling through that area. Hell we could use UN peacekeapers if its allowable. All you need is less than a dozen per ship. Pirates will soon realize that these “easy targets” aren’t so easy anymore. sure some will end up bringing bigger weapons in attempt to over power the troops on board but i will bet you the vast majority of pirates would probably call it quits and look for a new vocation. Piracy is a crime of oppurtunity

  18. D. E. Reddick permalink
    April 28, 2010 1:02 pm

    The Asheville class of PGs had an aluminum hull and a superstructure of both aluminum and fiber-glass.

  19. west_rhino permalink
    April 28, 2010 12:40 pm

    Hmmm… thought the Ashevilles were the first all aluminium targets. Oh well, if you build a little can of stuff from a pyrophoric material, I have to guess that you’ll be mystified when you toss a slug of sodium in the river.

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